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1904

1904 - Kampa Dzong Tibet

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One of the least thought about, but perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the way we listen to music is its loudness – that is, the quantity rather than just the quality. Modern day audiophiles will be familiar with the “loudness war” of the late 1990s and early 2000s, where mastering engineers applied compression techniques to commercial recordings to ensure they sounded louder than anything else on FM radio – and radio engineers then ran software to make everything level again, between them destroying the dynamic range of music and making everything sound much more flat.

To sacrifice fidelity for volume is not a new phenomenon. While the earliest sound recordings were relayed through stethoscope-like proto-headphones, by the mid 1890s recordings were being played through brass horns of the sort you would expect to find on an old gramophone or Victrola. These acoustic horns take small sound waves (which are large pressure variations with a small displacement area) and stretch them out (into a low pressure variation with a large displacement area.) This messes with the resonance of the sound, making mid-level tones boom and high-level or low-level sounds disappear or distort, but it at least means that you can play a record to a room full of people, so long as the room isn’t particularly big. Beyond a certain horn size the distortions became too disruptive, so playing music in concert halls was at first an impossibility.

The first attempt to do something about this problem was the “Triplephone” – a device which tripled the volume by having three gramophones playing the same recording. In some cases two triplephones could be used at the same time. You may think that this would cause problems with sychronisation, and this does appear to be the case, as such experiments soon faded away. A better solution was the ‘Auxetophone’, which used an electric fan to push air through the horn and force up the volume. It was much louder and much more expensive, too much so for home use, but it found a home in dance halls and theatres.

As the horn was a two-way device, its limitations also caused problems with recording. Loud recordings with greater dynamics caused stiff playback arms to force needles to hit the sides of the groove, resulting in records becoming unlistenable after less than 50 plays – not good value if you only owned a handful of cylinders or discs. Around this time engineers in the USA began to use dampening techniques – like encouraging artists to perform further away from the horn – and consequently mainstream recordings from this time often sacrifice their vividness for a reduction in distortion.

Sound engineering was so much in its infancy that it didn’t even have a name yet, so thankfully this new norm was confined to the studios of New York. Around the world vastly different techniques continued to be used. For some reason (please tell me if you know what it is) there seem to be a disproportionate amount of French recordings available in 1904 – so much so that I was able to dedicate a whole quarter of the mix to la francophonie. Russian and Italian opera singers also seem to dominate the repositories of available music. There was a lot of this to wade through this time, but the few nuggets I’ve picked out really are something special. One opera singer to pay particular attention to this time is Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato to ever be recorded. More about him soon.

Tracks

Edison Modern Minstrels – Louisiana Minstrels 0:00
Bohumir Kryl – Sweet Sixteen Waltz 0:05
Len Spencer – Lincoln’s Speech At Gettysburg 2:08
Vess L. Ossman – The Darkie’s Awakening 2:27
Byron G. Harlan And Frank C. Stanley – Two Rubes At The Vaudeville 4:43
W. W. Whitlock – Come Under My New Gamp 4:54
Albert C. Campbell & Bob Roberts – An Interrupted Courtship On The Elevated Railroad 6:57
Albert Sandler Trio – Kashmiri Song (Four Indian Love Lyrics) 7:30
Charlus – La Noce Du Chef D’orchestre 10.53
Grisard – Une Visite Au Jardin Des Plantes 11.35
Paul Fayol – Bonsoir Mam’zelle 12:36
Harry Fragson – L’anglais Triste 14:47
Harry Fragson – Le Flegme 15:14
Jean Péheu – Au Premier De Ces Messieurs 17:06
Léonne Et Willekens – Chez Le Dentiste 18:35
M. Bergeret – Chant D’afrique 19:16
Performers Unknown – Les Deux Pinsons 21:12
Martin Bendix – Eine Feine Familie 23:20
Kaiser Franz Garde-Grenadier Regiment Nr. 2 – Mill In Schwarzwald 23:46
Anonymous – Two Visitors to the St Louis Worlds Fair 25:11
J.W. Myers – Come Take A Trip In My Airship 25:28
Albert Benzler – Come Take A Trip In My Airship Medley 26:21
Len Spencer – Reuben Haskin’s Ride On The Cyclone Auto 27:42
Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan – Woah, Bill! 27:58
Edison Military Band – Good Humor Quadrille 2nd Figure 29:43
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh And The Insurance Agent 31:22
Unknown – Lumbering Luke (Concertina Solo) 32:00
Booker T. Washington – The Atlanta Compromise Speech 32:35
Enrico Caruso – Una Furtiva Lagrima 33:02
Alessandro Moreschi – Ave Maria 36:20
Mary Garden – Chant Vénitien 39:29
Antonina Nezhdanova – La Tenera Parola 40:40
Isabel Jay – Poor Wandering One 41:34
Gypsy Choir Of V.V.Panina – Sasa Grisha 43:25
R.H. Robinson – Jarabe Tapatio 45:24
Orquesta Tipica Lerdo – Consentida 46:30
Haydn Quartet – New Years At Old Trinity 47:28
John Hazel, Frank R. Seltzer And The Edison Military Band – Two Of Us 48:01
Burt Shepard – The Boy And The Cheese 49:31
Billy Murray – I Can’t Do That Sum 49:47
Unknown Performer – Backyard Conversation Between Two [Jealous] Irish Washerwomen 50:47
Arthur Pryor’s Band – Mignon Overture 50:58
Byron G. Harlan And Frank C. Stanley – An Evening Call In Jayville Center 53:15
Fontbonne, L – Chasse Aux Papillons 53:15
Sir Harry Lauder – Tattie Soup 54:02
Edison Symphony Orchestra – Down Tennessee – Descriptive Barn Dance 55:04
Edison Modern Minstrels – Georgia Minstrels 55:53
Frank S. Mazziotta – Bluette 56:16
Cal Stewart And Ada Jones – Uncle Josh’s Courtship 57:18
Unknown Performer – La Chanson Des Nids 57:35
Albert Whelan – Scrooge’s Awakening 58:23
Edison Male Quartet – Breeze Of The Night 58:39

Much of the research for this entry is from the always excellent Sound of the Hound blog.

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The Panama Canal

Panama Canal Construction

A man, a plan, a canal; Panama! Not just a palindrome, but a rejected heading for this blog post. 1904 saw the apex of Theodore Roosevelt’s super-sized presidency with work finally beginning on the digging of a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – a project whose scale remains impressive in 2018.

Here is a History Channel documentary on the building of the thing

 

…and here’s Teddy hanging out at the site, having dug the entire thing himself without catching malaria or yellow fever or even getting a smudge on his snappy suit.

Roosevelt_and_the_Canal

Alessandro Moreschi, the Last Castrato

Alessandro_Moreschi

This month’s mix features one of the only recordings in existence by a ‘castrato’ – a man who was castrated as a youth in order to maintain his choirboy-like vocal range. Most recordings featured in my mixes have little, if any, information available about them, and few of the artists even have a biography online, but Alessandro Moreschi has multiple books and documentaries dedicated to him. Naturally, this is less to do with his qualities as a performer than the sheer alienness of his existence to a 21st century audience. The music industry has done some terrible things recently, but the idea of permanently mutilating children in order to dedicate them to a life as an artist has such a bizarre combination of brutality and aestheticism to it that it’s simply incomprehensible that people could let such things happen. But with the horrors of the 20th century in mind, we should know that humans are capable of this and worse.

And of course there’s the curiosity. The sound of an extinct (human) creature lost to time until these recordings emerged, and then, well… Most listeners – that is, people interested in the history of opera, so not exactly representative of the public at large – find Moreschi’s voice not only strange, but actually not very nice to listen to. It isn’t just in a higher octave, the manner of singing is distinctly different, highly mannered, with a deliberately emotional style which sounds like the cheesiest of melodrama. Judging Moreschi on these lines betrays an understandable lack of experience of listening to opera recordings from the first years of the 20th Century.

Recording into a brass horn always changed a performance. Most singers would naturally attempt to do what they always did, perform as if they were on a grand stage in a theatre to a packed crowd, with all the theatricality that would entail. A few – notably Enrico Caruso – realised that an entirely different approach was needed, directing their voice carefully into the horn, exploiting the particular dynamics of the medium, and working with engineers to ensure that the instrumentation was matched to their voice. Most important, perhaps, was the move from ‘chest voice’ to ‘head voice’ – which made most of this possible. This different style fueled the boom in home listening, and formed not just the expectations of audiences, but the earliest training of the next generation of singers. Within a couple of decades the chesty emoting style of the Victorian stage would be forgotten, save for a few forgotten cylinders and discs. And maybe that’s a shame.

Here is Moreschi’s recording of ‘Ave Maria’. I’ve decided that I quite like it.

 

Here is very good article by Samantha Ellis about castrati, and here is a really quite excellent episode of an actually-always-excellent podcast called ‘Between The Liner Notes’ on Moreschi and castrati in general.

The Landlord’s Game

The Landlord's Game

Samuel Hynes described the Edwardian era as a “leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag” – but aside from the fashionable cliques of the upper class, nothing could be further from the truth. Radical politics was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic, with Socialist and Suffragist movements gaining strength all the way up to the start of the First World War.

Most of the cultural artifacts of the age bear the mark of this turbulence in one way or another, and no more so than The Landlord’s Game – a board game designed by American Socialist Elizabeth Magie as a “practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.” It ended up in the hands of Parker Brothers within three decades, now morphed into Monopoly, a game which celebrated the same terrible forces its predecessor aimed to eradicate.

99% Invisible have an episode on the topic, and of their usual high standard. You can listen to it here:

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-landlords-game/

 

Elsewhere in 1904

January 8 – The Blackstone Library is dedicated, marking the beginning of the Chicago Public Library system

January 8 – The Blackstone Library is dedicated, marking the beginning of the Chicago Public Library system

Hererokrieg - Gefangene Herero

January 18 – The Herero Rebellion in German South-West Africa begins

January 23 – The Ålesund Fire destroys most buildings in the town of Ålesund, Norway, leaving about 10,000 people without shelter

January 23 – The Ålesund Fire destroys most buildings in the town of Ålesund, Norway, leaving about 10,000 people without shelter

February 7 – The Great Baltimore Fire in Baltimore, Maryland, destroys over 1,500 buildings in 30 hours

February 7 – The Great Baltimore Fire in Baltimore, Maryland, destroys over 1,500 buildings in 30 hours

February 8–9 – A surprise Japanese naval attack on Port Arthur (Lüshun) in Manchuria starts the Russo-Japanese War

February 8–9 – A surprise Japanese naval attack on Port Arthur (Lüshun) in Manchuria starts the Russo-Japanese War

March 31 – British expedition to Tibet – Battle of Guru- British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband defeat ill-equipped Tibetan troops

March 31 – British expedition to Tibet – Battle of Guru- British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband defeat ill-equipped Tibetan troops

April 19 – The Great Toronto Fire destroys much of that city's downtown, but there are no fatalities.

April 19 – The Great Toronto Fire destroys much of that city’s downtown, but there are no fatalities.

April 30 – The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair opens in St. Louis, Missouri

April 30 – The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair opens in St. Louis, Missouri

July 1 – The third Modern Olympic Games opens in St. Louis, Missouri, United States as part of the World's Fair

July 1 – The third Modern Olympic Games opens in St. Louis, Missouri, United States as part of the World’s Fair

August 11 – Battle of Waterberg- Lothar von Trotha defeats the Herero people in German South-West Africa, and drives them into the Omaheke desert, starting the Herero and Namaqua Genoc

August 11 – Battle of Waterberg- Lothar von Trotha defeats the Herero people in German South-West Africa, and drives them into the Omaheke desert, starting the Herero and Namaqua Genocide

October 21 – The Russian Baltic Fleet fires on British trawlers it mistakes for Japanese torpedo boats, in the North Sea.

October 21 – The Russian Baltic Fleet fires on British trawlers it mistakes for Japanese torpedo boats, in the North Sea.

November 8 – U.S. presidential election, 1904- Republican incumbent Theodore Roosevelt defeats Democrat Alton B. Parker.

November 8 – U.S. presidential election, 1904- Republican incumbent Theodore Roosevelt defeats Democrat Alton B. Parker.

1903 in Art

Félix Vallotton – The Five Painters

Félix Vallotton – The Five Painters

Edvard Munch – Dr. Linde's Sons

Edvard Munch – Dr. Linde’s Sons

C. M. Coolidge - His Station and Four Aces

C. M. Coolidge – His Station and Four Aces

Jacek Malczewski - Law

Jacek Malczewski – Law

Hugo Simberg – The Wounded Angel

Hugo Simberg – The Wounded Angel

John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus

John William Waterhouse – Echo and Narcissus

Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto

Pablo Picasso – Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto

Paula Modersohn-Becker – The Old Farmer

Paula Modersohn-Becker – The Old Farmer

Paul Klee - Jungfrau im Baum

Paul Klee – Jungfrau im Baum

Margaret MacDonald - Opera Of The Winds

Margaret MacDonald – Opera Of The Winds

Henri Ottmann - The Luxembourg Station in Brussels

Henri Ottmann – The Luxembourg Station in Brussels

Wassily Kandinsky – The Blue Rider

Wassily Kandinsky – The Blue Rider

Camille Pissarro – Self-portrait

Camille Pissarro – Self-portrait

Tom Roberts - The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York

Tom Roberts – The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York

1903 in Film

…aside from The Great Train Robbery of course.

Alice

Alice in Wonderland

The Gay Show Clerk

The Kingdom of the Fairies

Life of an American Fireman

Momijigari

Diving Lucy

The Sick Kitten

Old London Street Scenes

Runaway Match

Electrocuting an Elephant

The Infernal Cauldron

Desperate Poaching Affray

Mary Jane’s Mishap

The Music Lover

A Chess Dispute

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